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Ten years ago, on November 3, 2011, Super Mario 3D land debuted on 3DS in Japan. It’s not usually held or remembered as a glorious entry from the Mario series – in fact, at the time of writing, it inexplicably isn’t on our dynamic list of the 50 best 3DS games rated by readers – but some of us at NL Towers do I have pretty fond memories of this title and I think it deserves a spotlight to highlight what it has done for the series and indeed for its host system.
First, check out the video above from our very own Jon Cartwright who makes a lot of good points that we’d love to repeat here. Also, be sure to check it out to remember what this happy 3DS game was about.
As Jon mentions, it’s worth noting that Super Mario 3D Land made an important contribution to a rescue project for the 3DS. The system’s launch in March 2011 was particularly poor, considering that it is the successor to the hugely popular DS. The initial sales were so subdued that Nintendo took several steps to stabilize the ship, which in hindsight are pretty impressive: Satoru Iwata and other senior executives made substantial pay cuts; the company publicly apologized for its struggles; The 3DS received a significant price cut after just six months in the market, and early adopters received 20 free games – 10 NES and 10 GBA – in compensation, with the GBA selection never being made available outside of what is known as the “Ambassador Program”. . In this current era as Nintendo basks in the success of the Switch, these types of actions feel very aloof indeed.
The company (arguably) successfully rescued the 3DS and reversed that weak momentum, with the system eventually posting solid sales for this generation, albeit still nowhere near the success of DS. There was of course the price cut and then in late 2011 and early 2012 some major game releases that boosted global sales.
Monster hunter 3 G was huge in Japan, but in the west we still had to wait a while Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate; times have been very different for this particular Capcom franchise. Worldwide brought both at the end of 2011 Mario kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land, and the system went from being an expensive portable device with no must-have games to a more affordable new console and a hot festive gift.
Of this trio of games (and only the two “Mario” titles in the West), it was probably only Super Mario 3D Land that highlighted the system’s headline function – glasses-free stereoscopic 3D. As the 3DS era progressed, the 2DS models came along and games made less and less use of the feature, but Super Mario 3D Land was an early example of Nintendo actively developing games to showcase the concept. It’s a game that just does better with the slider turned up.
This mix of unpredictability, creativity and the beguiling 3D effect fascinated this author, and it was a sales success alongside MK7 that helped improve the system.
Stages actively produced ‘woah’ moments, with camera angles and platform tasks designed to take advantage of the visible depth and control they gave the player. Puzzle rooms would suddenly make more sense in 3D, you would fall into the depths and aim at distant platforms, and the feeling of moving Mario through a real room had probably never felt so literal.
As our video from earlier this year highlights, it mixed up different Mario elements in a – certainly at this point in time – unique way. The branding of the Game Boy Mario titles has been adopted and filled with hybrid 2D / 3D Mario design ideas. Stages had 3D tricks and challenges that came with them Super Mario Galaxy remember, however, ended with flagpoles and had upgrades that were permanent until hit. Stage selection tailored to the New Super Mario Bros. Approach, but abandoned the convention of the topic worlds in order to enable the development team to do effectively whatever is good for them.
This mix of unpredictability, creativity and the beguiling 3D effect fascinated this author, and it was a sales success alongside MK7 that helped improve the system. However, when we talk about Mario games and the best reviews, it rarely gets mentioned. We don’t feel like it’s on any Nintendo planning documents for a revival.
There are undoubtedly several reasons for this. One is that it was pretty easy, so those seeking a challenge may have felt under-challenged; even the unlockable extras did not necessarily burden experienced players. One defense against this is that Nintendo was trying to introduce 3D Mario to a 3DS audience that might be younger or less experienced. In addition, the heavy use of the 3D effect likely led to choices that would minimize motion sickness and other responses to the autostereoscopic effect. Then there’s the hardware it ran on – the 3DS wasn’t a technological powerhouse and to create that 3D effect, the frame rate for this game ran at 30 fps.
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3D Land was very much in its day. While some of us were all in on the 3D effect and cranked it to the max at every opportunity, for others it was an unwelcome and untapped gimmick. As a game essentially designed for the effect, of course, it will not be appreciated by those who did not have time for the charms of stereoscopic images.
Nonetheless, we will happily argue that it is a game that deserves to be remembered and highly regarded. From this writer’s point of view, there is a fun little entry on the series that really shows what this 3DS screen can do. Its hybrid approach would prove to be excellent Super Mario 3D world on Wii U – which has experienced its renaissance alongside the Switch Bowser’s anger recently. Maybe Super Mario 3D Land will never get such a re-release because the concept doesn’t fit into these downright HD / 4K-obsessed times. Still, it’s a memorable game in itself, and if not next to 3D World, it deserves to stand out from behind its cloak.
It’s only a decade old – how time flies! – but in its own way, Super Mario 3D Land is reminiscent of a bygone era. A time when Nintendo’s creativity was inextricably linked to its hardware capabilities, and Mario was the most powerful 3D he ever had.
Ten years later we still love it, but what do you think of the game’s use of the system’s 3D capability? Let us know in the poll below: